For most fans of the Boston Celtics, everything is gravy after the hard-fought and unexpected Nov. 16 victory over the Golden State Warriors. They’ve won 14 straight and done so sometimes in situations that felt impossible. But for the team itself and head coach Brad Stevens, it was just another November game. And at times it looked like The One Where The Streak Ends, with the Atlanta Hawks playing hard off contributions from veteran roleplayers and intriguing newcomers. Nevertheless, the Cs’ composure and persistence led them to another W:
THE GAME FLOW
This one began with Jaylen Brown continuing his path of flamethrower offense that began in the second half of the Cs’ game vs. the Warriors. But the Hawks, perhaps feeling themselves after a 46-point demolition of the Sacramento Kings, were hungry, and after Jaylen’s early success blasted away. Their efforts earned them a double-digit lead, due almost entirely to Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore.
Boston’s defense seemed unprepared for the freewheeling ATL attack, and it showed. Kyrie Irving took up the offensive mantle and got buckets from most court positions, but they still ended up down 15 after one frame, pummeled by the Hawks’ 57 percent shooting from deep, with Marcus Smart’s blown buzzer-beating trey adding insult to injury.
Neither the Celtics nor their coach are stupid, and made adjustments to tone down the rapid attack-attack-attack mode in which ATL coach Mike Budenholzer runs this Hawks offense. Marcus Morris, who has been a somewhat polarizing player in his short (thus far) stint with Boston, did what he’s undeniably good at doing and manufactured some much-needed offense. Combined with Smart’s 3-point shooting, this cut the Atlanta lead to small single digits.
The game took on a more routine back-and-forth rhythm in the latter half of the second quarter, with the Celtics keeping themselves firmly in the contest but never overtaking the Hawks’ established lead. Honestly, if not for the ironclad force of Boston’s defense, Atlanta would probably be ahead by a lot more than 6 points at the first half’s two-minute warning. This hadn’t changed when time expired on Q2.
While the Celtics stepped up their offensive pace and performance considerably in the third quarter, they couldn’t stop the Hawks enough to get a lead until just after Q3’s halfway point, when Jaylen sunk his fourth made trey of the night (out of 5 at that time,). Contributions from Schroder and Luke Babbitt from deep kept the Hawks in it, as did their careful custody of the ball–ATL had half the turnovers Boston did for three frames of the contest.
Only in the last few minutes of Q3 did Boston truly start resembling the squad that’s shocked, awed and frustrated the NBA world for the past several weeks. Defensive hustle turned itself into firepower on multiple occasions, most notably on two successive dunks by Jayson Tatum. Tatum is not a man who’s frequently dunked in his NBA career. He really should do it, like, all the friggin’ time, because it’s beautiful. (See below.)
But the Hawks aren’t a team accustomed to ready or easy surrender. Promising ATL rookie John Collins seriously brought it on both ends of the floor, racking up 16 points off the bench and making himself a real problem for Boston. Moving into the final frame of this matchup, the home team held tight and managed to take small leads off the work of Collins and Taurean Prince.
The major fault for ATL was a defensive failure–unusual for a squad renowned for that aspect of its game over the years, but at this point unsustainable due to a sheer deficit of top-end talent. (I’ve said it before: A dude like Schroder simply cannot be your No. 1 option. He’s like…the actual iteration of what people thought Isaiah Thomas was last year.) Boston managed to reach near 50 percent shooting from the field and from 3, something that no good defense permits. Atlanta will be good again if they keep Budenholzer drawing up the plays; they just aren’t now.
Kyrie went into a mid-rare version of his takeover mode and that made a comeback unattainable for ATL. He wasn’t ISO-ing to death but chose his spots carefully and banged treys and jumpers off them. But Jaylen’s night can’t possibly be overpraised, as he started strong and developed momentum on both offense and D that never flagged for a second. I credit the Hawks for not laying down and dying even when they were about 10 behind, with Collins, Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon playing hard and chipping away, but it wasn’t enough, and the Celtics had their 15th straight win with an 11-point margin, 110-99.
A sneeeeeeeeeeaky move by Jaylen, keeping his strong streak going with this 3-fake turned drive:
oh my god–
OH MY FOCKING GOD–
TWEET OF THE NIGHT:
Marcus did OK tonight (10 points, 4 boards, a +7) but this joke was too good to pass up:
The reply from dedicated Celtics fan and Red’s Army reader Bee is just as good: